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Pregnancy after cancer
March 15, 2022—If you're a childhood cancer survivor, you may have many questions about having a baby someday. Will you be able to get pregnant after cancer treatment? Will your baby be healthy?
There's reason to be optimistic, according to the experts at the National Cancer Institute. Advances in cancer treatment have helped many more cancer survivors go on to have a healthy pregnancy.
And a new study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that pregnant women who survived childhood cancer are just as likely to have healthy babies as those without a history of cancer.
The study looked at more than 4,000 Canadian women who had been treated for cancer before age 21. They compared each of them to five similar women who had not been treated for childhood cancer. The results were encouraging.
The researchers found that:
- Cancer survivors faced no increased risk for miscarriage.
- There was no difference in birth defects or Apgar scores (a screening test for a newborn's health).
- There was no higher risk for pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes or cesarean delivery.
However, the cancer survivors did face some added risks:
- Pre-term births. The study found that 9% of cancer survivors gave birth before week 37 of their pregnancy. That's compared to 6% of other women.
- Complications. Cancer survivors were twice as likely to experience a severe complication during labor or develop a heart problem during pregnancy. The risk was still low. Only 2% of survivors in the study had those complications.
Planning for a healthy pregnancy
Communication with your care providers is key.
That can start during treatment. Cancer treatments can affect fertility, so it's important to share your questions and concerns with your care team during treatment.
They may be able to take steps to keep your reproductive organs safe during treatment. And you may have other options, such as storing frozen eggs, sperm and embryos.
The conversation doesn't end when your treatment does. Your team can help you decide on the best time to try to get pregnant. And they can address other concerns. For example, some medicines help prevent cancer from returning. But they are not safe to take during pregnancy. Your provider can help you understand the risks of pausing your medication.
When you're ready to start a family, schedule a pre-pregnancy checkup with your OB-GYN. Make sure your provider knows your medical history, including the types of cancer treatment you have had.
Want to learn more about what to expect during pregnancy? Explore our Pregnancy topic center.